Can Jacob Zuma tame Robert Mugabe?

Zuma has made his foreign policy priorities clear since assuming the presidency in April, placing emphasis on the region and Africa. His visit to Zimbabwe comes soon after his first foreign tour, to oil-rich Angola, one of Zimbabwean President R obert Mugabe’s closest allies.

Prior to becoming president, Zuma had publicly criticised Mugabe and his ZANU-PF party, in stark contrast to the approach taken by his predecessor, President Thabo Mbeki, who was appointed by the SADC to resolve Zimbabwe’s political impasse.

In September 2008 the Global Political Agreement (GPA) was eventually signed, paving the way for the formation of the unity government in February 2009.

After a recent meeting in South Africa with Morgan Tsvangirai, Zimbabwe’s Prime Minister and leader of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), Zuma said he would discuss with Mugabe the "very weighty issues" that have remained unresolved since the formation of the unity government.

Mugabe has embarked on a diplomatic offensive, attending relatively low-level meetings in southern African countries, including Botswana, Namibia and Zambia.

Differences between the MDC and ZANU-PF run so deep that the two parties cannot even agree on the purpose of Zuma’s visit. Mugabe’s spokesman, George Charamba, told local media: "President Jacob Zuma is coming here to officially open the agricultural show and not to resolve the MDC’s issues."

On the other hand, the Minister of State in the Prime Minister’s Office, Gorden Moyo, said in a statement, "President Jacob Zuma will arrive on 27 August and will hold deliberations with the three principals [in the unity government]." The three principals are Mugabe’s ZANU-PF, Tsvangirai’s MDC, and an MDC breakaway party led by Arthur Mutambara, the Deputy Prime Minister.

MDC grievances

The MDC claims that ZANU-PF has consistently flouted the GPA because Mugabe unilaterally appointed Johannes Tomana as attorney-general, and Gideon Gono as Reserve Bank governor, without any prior consultation, as required by the GPA.

Mugabe has also not appointed provincial governors – most of whom will be MDC supporters, reflecting the 2008 poll results – and persistently refuses to swear in Roy Bennett as deputy agriculture minister. Bennett was commercial farmer whose land was expropriated during Mugabe’s disastrous fast-track land reform programme, which began in 2000.

''ZANU-PF leaders as well as their families are still prohibited to visit Europe, United States of America, as indeed in respect of their children to go to school in these countries''

ZANU-PF grievances

ZANU-PF claims that the MDC is not doing enough to persuade Western countries to lift smart sanctions targeting senior members of ZANU-PF, and that ZANU-PF continues to be "vilified" by foreign radio stations.

"ZANU-PF leaders as well as their families are still prohibited to visit Europe, United States of America, as indeed in respect of their children to go to school in these countries," ZANU-PF said in a statement.

"This does not apply to any member of the MDC, who are free to roam the world, while the country, as well as those regarded as sympathetic to ZANU-PF, continue to be subjected to a regime of brutal illegal sanctions."

The ZANU-PF Politburo commented in a statement that it was in "baffled" by reports of outstanding issues relating to the power-sharing deal, while the MDC maintained that "The issue of sanctions is a matter between ZANU-PF and the governments which imposed them."